The Skills You Need for the Entertainment Industry
A big misconception in the entertainment industry is that to work in the field, you need to have some sort of formalized training or real-world experience. Although that may be true for certain positions (e.g., camera operator, editor, director, etc.), there are some entry-level, sweat-equity, assistant positions where you can gain experience and work your way up.
If you’ve ever watched a movie until the end when the credits roll, you’ve likely seen some of those positions listed, including production assistant, grips, and more. Find out what those positions entail in this basic breakdown of industry jobs and the generalized skills needed to land the positions and be successful.
A Hollywood assistant is responsible for everything from performing an array of typical administrative duties in an office, from answering phones and rolling calls to making copies and getting coffee, to being something of a personal concierge to agents and studio executives, running all sorts of personal errands, from dropping off and picking up laundry to washing cars and walking dogs.
Although the entry-level position doesn’t pay well and is highly demanding, it often leads to much more prominent roles in the industry. To succeed in this position, you need to be highly organized, have an acute eye for detail, be able to anticipate needs, be available at will and on-call (12-hour days are common) and have tons of tenacity. Plenty of studio executives and high-powered agents are former Hollywood assistants.
Similar to a Hollywood assistant, a production assistant position is a highly demanding, all-encompassing, entry-level gateway job that can lead to much more prominent positions in the industry. The duties are similar for this supporting role, but the primary difference is that a production assistant supports a film crew on a set rather than a single executive in an office.
The hours are equally as long—a production assistant is often the first one on set and the last one to leave, working 12-14 hours a day when filming on the set and 15-24 hours when on location—and the work is often thankless. Duties include running errands, keeping crew stocked with fresh batteries for their walkie talkies, setting up tents, tables, and chairs, picking up trash, getting everybody corralled for meals, keeping folks quiet on the set, managing traffic, and more.
Experience isn’t necessary, and being a PA is often a launchpad to better gigs. To succeed in this role, you need to have a similar skill set as a Hollywood assistant with the knack for multitasking.
Grips are laborers that work on the set directly with set construction, setting up and maintaining backdrops, and operating lighting, rigging, and camera equipment. There are several different types of grips—dolly grips, construction grips, and best boy grips—who are all essential to the production of a film. Like the other assistant roles, grips positions can pave the way for other higher-profile production positions.
Dolly grips move and operate the camera dolly and platform, moving the camera and keeping it steady as scenes are being shot; construction grips help assemble and tear down sets; best boy grips serve as foreman first assistants to the gaffer, who handle all of the electrical work, and the key grips, which handle all of the lighting and rigging crews, and create and oversee budgets for the productions. Having carpentry and electrical experience is helpful here, and you should be in good shape physically. Camera equipment can weigh up to 400 pounds, and you may be tasked with climbing heights of up to 70 feet.
Being a background actor is exactly what it sounds like: people populating a set and blending into the background while the main actors film their shots. Another entry-level position, background acting requires no experience. But unlike Hollywood assistant and production assistant positions, being a background actor isn’t a direct line to bigger roles, nor will it help you garner any marketable skills.
All the same, the work isn’t exactly demanding, even if the hours can be long and tedious, and the schedule is far more flexible, as you’ll essentially be working as a contractor, accepting as many or as few opportunities that are presented by casting agencies.
TV Writer and Screenwriter
Writing jobs in film and television are tougher to come by, but they’re often very gratifying if you’re a creative type who enjoys writing dialogue, developing characters, and crafting and advancing plotlines. Although the roles are similar for TV and film writing, the dynamics are different.
Led by an executive producer—also known as a showrunner—TV writers are typically part of a team of writers that work to shape the narrative of a television show, writing the dialogue, developing characters, and pushing plotlines in a writers’ room. Television writers often have the opportunity to move up the ranks from staff writer to story editor, co-producer, supervising producer, co-executive producer, and executive producer.
Screenwriters, on the other hand, work independently drawing from real-life events, coming up with original content, or adapting works written by others to be produced on-screen. They work directly with directors and producers, pitching new screenplays and polishing existing plotlines and characters.
Line producers are in charge of overseeing budgets for productions. Assessing how much a movie costs to produce each day, line producers work directly with executive producers and coordinate writers, producers, directors, and talent, in addition to hiring production crews and managing all of the day-to-day production. They also manage the post-production, which includes editing and adding special effects. This position requires at least five years of experience, and you should be proficient at accounting and have proven leadership skills.
Music Coordination and Supervision
Working with music in film, television, and trailers may sound like an enticing job that doesn’t require much more than having great sensibilities, it’s actually quite involved and specialized. There are different types of music coordinator, and supervisor positions and the duties are similar even if the vehicles are different. The job of trailer supervision gives a succinct glimpse of the process of securing music.
Unlike placing music for longer form footage, trailer music supervision specifically picks the music for movie trailers. Unlike movie and TV productions, however, studios typically hire two or three trailer houses and have them complete for music placement, which requires them to pick music, edits cuts and present a draft.
From there, the process is similar. Supervisors scan scripts to spot where music would fit, put together budgets and cue sheets, which detail all of the music for the project, and then work on securing licenses for the individual music, pulling from pre-existing libraries and working directly with composers, commissioning them to create new music.
Wardrobe and Costume Designer
Being a wardrobe or costume designer involves working directly with directors to develop attire for individual actors, ensuring that the fashion evokes identifiable eras or complements the tone and texture of the production. It requires studying scripts, researching styles, fabrics, and time periods, then sketching out designs and presenting the ideas to directors, and then designing the wardrobes and costumes. This position relies heavily on creative design skills.